The Northern Lights, the common name for an astrological phenomenon known as aurora borealis, are one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. These curtains of colored lights become visible at certain times in both hemispheres, but are typically easier to see in the northern half of the globe. Read on to learn more about the Northern Lights and how you can experience one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world.
What Causes the Northern Lights?
This awe-inspiring phenomenon occurs at the magnetic pole (the northernmost point of the globe) when electrons created by solar wind stream away from the sun at more than a million miles per hour. When these electrons return to Earth near the magnetic pole, they flow through a highly-charged area of electrical and magnetic fields. Depending on the speed at which the electrons are traveling and which atoms they meet, different colors will be visible in the night sky.
What Colors Are the Northern Lights?
If the electrons encounter oxygen particles, green will be created if they are traveling slower than 150 miles per hour and red created at a higher speed. When nitrogen particles are encountered by the electrons, blue lights will appear at slower than 60 miles per hour and purple lights at higher speeds.
Where Can the Northern Lights Be Seen?
While aurora borealis can technically been seen anywhere in the northern hemisphere, certain areas are more conducive to visibility of the Northern Lights. Canada, Alaska, and Antartica are the easiest places to see the Northern Lights, though they have been seen as far south as Mexico.
When Are the Northern Lights Visible?
The Northern Lights are visible all year depending on where you are viewing them from. Choose a dark night and go to a location without much air pollution, light pollution, or smog. Use a compass to find the northernmost pole and focus your attention in that direction. Patience is key, particularly if you are not in a peak viewing location such as Alaska; it may be several months before you detect the lights. Autumn and winter are the most active times for the Northern Lights, and the peak times are between 6 p.m. and 4 a.m., with the highest probability of seeing lights found between 10 and 11 p.m. Eastern standard time. The lights are more active in certain years, so check NASA’s website (www.nasa.gov) to learn more about peak times for the aurora borealis.
What Are the Best Places to Travel to See the Northern Lights?
If you’re interested in traveling to a location to see the Northern Lights, your best strategy is to choose a place where they are more likely to be seen (although there is no guarantee on any given night that the aurora borealis will be visible). Popular and typically successful locations in North American include Yellowknife, North Western Territories, Canada; Lake Athapapuskow Manitoba, Canada; Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada; and Fairbanks, Alaska.
Is it Possible to Photograph the Northern Lights?
Because of their unpredictability as well as the limitations of commercially available cameras, it can be very difficult–but not impossible–to photograph the Northern Lights. For best results, you’ll need a manual camera with a fast lens, fast film, a tripod, and a self-timer to trigger the shutter without touching the camera itself.
If you’re interested in the natural wonders of the world, you should make an effort to view the Northern Lights at least once in your lifetime. While viewing them takes planning, patience, and time, you’ll be glad that you put in the effort to experience one of the most amazing 7 natural wonders of the world.